Like it or not, Chiefs' goal-line offense has element of surprise
The sight was audacious and bizarre and downright funny, the play itself a head scratcher. It was all anybody wanted to talk about after the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Denver Broncos in a game crucial to their AFC West title hopes.
Defensive tackle Dontari Poe, all 346 pounds of him, jumping a whopping 4 inches off the ground and throwing a touchdown pass to tight end Demetrius Harris in a game already decided.
"As a lineman, you always kind of dream of that. So why not?" Chiefs coach Andy Reid said when asked to explain the call. "I've got 51 percent of the vote, so I went with it."
Not everyone saw the humor in it, the most cynical pundits calling it "classless" to score a meaningless touchdown in such a flippant way. But in truth, there was a certain amount of genius to the call, and a couple underlying benefits that could aid the Chiefs in their Super Bowl pursuit.
First, it gave defenses yet another nuance to consider in their game preparations.
The Chiefs (11-4) have put the ball in Poe's hands three times now over the past three seasons, all in goal-line situations and all resulting in touchdowns.
The first was a simple handoff in a game against the Chargers two years ago, when Poe used his massive girth to plunge into the end zone. And the second came on a screen pass against Oakland this season, when Poe grabbed the ball and again used his massive size to plunge into the end zone.
Incidentally, that play among others led Raiders coach Jack Del Rio to call the Chiefs' offense "gimmicky," an assessment that wasn't particularly well-received in Kansas City.
So last Sunday, when Poe lined up at quarterback, it made sense that the Denver defense lunged at the line of scrimmage on the snap. Who could have imagined he would actually throw it?
"You know, that's coach Andy Reid. That's what he does. He puts plays like that together," said Broncos linebacker Shane Ray, one of those duped by the play. "That won't be forgotten. It's not like we don't play each other twice a year. We'll remember this."
(Add Ray to the list of those who failed to see the humor.)
Now, opposing playoff teams probably aren't going to spend a whole lot of time game planning to stop the Chiefs' secret weapon. But that's not really the point. When Kansas City gets close to the goal line, the fact that Poe is a threat to run, pass or catch should at least cross the minds of the guys trying to stop him, if not the coordinators dialing up the plays.
"One for one and a touchdown. I don't think I can critique much," said Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith, when asked to assess Poe's form. "I can't say anything. It looked good to me."
(Add him to the list of those who thought it was hilarious.)
And that may be the biggest benefit for the Chiefs heading into January, far more than any kind of schematic advantage. In a league where everything is a state secret, where it seems the NFL is too often trying to strip away the personality and individuality, Reid whipped out a bit of old-fashioned fun to bring everyone in the locker room together.
Reid called a play that was just silly. The kind of play that kids draw up in the schoolyard dirt for their husky friend who always has to play on the line. The kind of play Reid wishes someone had designed for him when he was playing on the line at BYU.
"Hitting the sled and everything that we had to do, having the opportunity to put one up like that was great," Reid said. "The guys rally around it, too. Somewhere along the line, this game was designed to have a little fun, so that mixes into it."
Indeed, the levity brought to the most stressful month of an NFL season may turn out to be far more valuable than the seven points. Even long after the game, when the locker room is usually cleared out, players were still laughing about it as they headed home.
"I was kind of egging coach Reid on," Poe said, reflecting on the play call. "You have to understand, these coaches do a lot of preparing to put something like that in. For me to go out there and have it actually happen like they drew it up was big."